•   
  •   
  •   
 

You Are Viewing Canada

Nine Tips For Cycling The Cabot Trail

Posted August 30th, 2013

The Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia must be one of the most scenic bicycle rides in all of Canada, if not the world.

For a taste of the experiences that await you on this 300 kilometer road, set your mind on breathtaking sea vistas, framed by dramatic cliffs; curvy roads through timeless fishing villages; old-growth forests in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and some truly epic climbs.

DSC_7317

On a recent trip around the Cabot Trail, we picked up a few tips that may be helpful to anyone planning to ride this classic route.

#1. Prepare For Wind

We camped for a week in mid-August and experienced stiff winds every day, blowing clockwise around the trail. It’s true that the views are better if you travel anti-clockwise (with the sea on your right) but on balance we would recommend going with the wind. This was also the choice of most cyclists we saw during our visit.

The strong winds also meant that our camp stove quickly burnt through fuel, even though we used firewood and stones to build a wind break around our stove. Keep your fuel bottles topped up, and preferably take a stove that uses either white gas or fuel from gas stations. We could not find gas canisters anywhere on the trail.

DSC_7341

Our stove surrounded by a make-shift windbreak.

#2. Pack Lightly

It almost goes without saying that when the hills are steep, it pays to travel as lightly as possible. We wouldn’t normally recommend dehydrated campers meals as they’re fairly expensive but it might be worth carrying a few on the Cabot Trail to save weight. Remember, sustained climbs at grades above 10% are common. Some grades even reach 15%. Ideally, you’ll get a bike with thin tires and a couple back bags. The exception is Meat Cove (see tip #7). In that case, you’ll want more robust tires for the dirt roads.

Rest Stop on French Mountain Climb

Rest stop on French Mountain. Photo by Bobcatnorth (flickr).

#3. Not All Campsites Have Water

There are campsites dotted regularly around the trail, including several in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Of the six main campsites in the national park, however, only those at Cheticamp, Broad Cove and Ingonish have water. The private campsites around the trail have all the services you’d expect (eg. wi-fi, water, showers). Expect to pay $25-30 Canadian a night for camping. Firewood and ice is usually available at campsites, for an extra charge.

#4. Reserve If You Plan To Stay In Hotels

Nearly every B&B, hotel and hostel we passed had a ‘no vacancy’ sign outside. If you don’t plan to bring a tent, you’d better reserve a room.

#5. There’s A Bike Shop In Cheticamp

We saw one good bike shop along the trail: Velo Max in Cheticamp. The owner does plenty of work preparing bikes for tour groups and should be able to help with any mechanical problems.

#6. Take Hiking Boots 

Most cyclists breeze around the Cabot Trail in 3-4 days but there are so many world-class hiking tracks on the Cabot Trail it almost seems criminal to pass them by. If you can, lengthen your stay by a few days and stop to explore on foot. You’ll see a side of Cape Breton that isn’t revealed until you walk away from the road. You could easily spend 10-14 days doing a mixture of cycling and hiking on the trail.

We do realize that hiking boots are a heavy addition to your panniers. If the weather isn’t too hot, you might consider using your boots both for cycling and walking. We personally find hiking boots very comfortable for both activities.

DSC_7396Ready to walk the trails of Cape Breton.

#7. Meat Cove Makes An Amazing Side Trip

The most northerly community in Cape Breton is Meat Cove. It’s literally perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sheltered bay.

Meat Cove
Meat Cove view. Photo by Kaymoshusband (flickr).

Don’t kid yourself: this is a tough side trip. You’ll travel 30km off the Cabot Trail. The hills in the 15km leading up to Meat Cove are steep and relentless and the final 8km are on a rough dirt road. Still, your hard work will be rewarded by the stunning views and you can treat yourself to a bowl of chowder and a cold beer at the campground restaurant. There are also several hiking trails that lead up the hills and to hidden bays.

DSC_7323Chowder at Meat Cove

For an easier option, cycle the relatively easy (and entirely paved) 18km to the picturesque fishing community of Bay St. Lawrence. There you’ll find a campground, grocery store and delicious fish ‘n’ chips at the harbour.

#8. Be Aware of Bears And Coyotes

This is wild country, particularly in the national park. Bears and coyotes call the forests home, so if you are hiking or plan to wild camp, take appropriate precautions. Don’t eat near your tent or keep any food inside. More information is available on the national park website.

DSC_7397Lobster Supper with all the trimmings in Baddeck.

#9. Celebrate With An All-You-Can-Eat Lobster Supper

When you’ve completed the Cabot Trail, you deserve a treat! We very much enjoyed our meal at the Baddeck Lobster Suppers. With unlimited chowder, mussels, salads and desserts it’s the perfect place to fill up your hungry cyclist’s belly. If you don’t fancy lobster, they also roast salmon on a maple plank. Delicious!

These articles provide further tips and advice:

 

 

Riding North: Bike Touring In Canada’s Wilderness

Posted January 27th, 2013

Riding NorthEver dreamed of cycling Canada‘s far north? This new bike touring documentary might be just your thing.

Riding North tells the tale of 5 young Canadians as they cycle 1,900km of remote roads between Whitehorse, Yukon and Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories.

In the film, they show the joys and routines of bike touring as well as the challenges. Be prepared for a fair amount of swearing as the cyclists encounter a variety of problems from bike breakdowns to lack of food.

“I didn’t know that there was a 500 kilometer stretch of gravel between grocery stores, didn’t know about the herds of wild bison, aggressive bears and bugs that ripped flesh from your skin or the fact that we would have to pump water from creeks for over a week,” said Steve Langston.

He was one of 3 in the group to complete the trip. The other two chose to finish early because of the challenging conditions.

The documentary will be broadcast on Canadian channel RadX  (available on MTS & Shaw) on January 29 at 9:00 Eastern. For everyone else, the one-hour film can be downloaded via the Riding North website for $7.

The World’s 10 Best Bike Tours?

Posted March 18th, 2011

A little over a year ago, we wrote about 10 Places To Ride Your Bike Before You Die – a list of the favourite places we’ve been on our bicycles.

Now, we’ve come up with 10 more dream bike tours – our own personal list of the top places we’d like to go next. Some we’ve been to in part, but we’d like to explore more. Others we’ve never seen but we’ve heard so many great reports that they’re on our short list.

Of course, reducing the world to just 10 bike tours could rightly be described as a great injustice to all the potential routes out there. Think of this as a little inspiration to get you dreaming, and share your ideas of the best places to cycle by leaving a comment.

1. North Sea Cycle Route

Route de la mer du Nord, allemagne

 

This 6,000km marked route traces the coastline of the North Sea. It goes through the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway and it’s easy to do just a section if you don’t have time for the whole thing. Much of the route is on dedicated bike paths or small roads, making this a very tranquil bike tour. More info: North Sea Cycle

 

2. Pacific Coast, United States

The Bike Tour

 

The Pacific Coast Highway has always intrigued us. We’re talking spectacular ocean views, massive redwood trees, classic cities like San Francisco and plenty of facilities for cyclists as you cycle through the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Maps are available from the Adventure Cycling Association. More Info: ACA Pacific Coast route

 

3. Danube Cycle Path

Danube Bike Path

 

We’ve already cycled the start of the Danube Bike Path; a perfectly paved trail running through Germany and Austria to the Hungarian capital of Budapest. This stretch is great for families, beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to spend much time figuring out logistics.

Now we want to finish the job. Apparently the path gets less refined as it goes along. We like the idea of that slow progression.

There are tons of guidebooks describing the route from the river’s source to where it empties into the Black Sea. Ride it on your own or pick from the many package tours. More Info: The Danube Bike path is part of EuroVelo6.

 

4. Japan

Japanese Temple

 

We were in Japan many years ago, and we’ve been dying to go back on our bicycles. We want to check out more temples, soak in the hot springs and gorge on sushi. Many people think Japan is expensive but to keep costs low, you can cook your own food and take advantage of the free campsites and local hospitality clubs. More Info: Japan Cycling and Journey of 1000 Li (We wrote this before the terrible 2011 earthquake in Japan. Hopefully the country will recover quickly and be ready to receive tourists again soon.)

 

5. The Silk Road & The Pamir Highway

Andrew in front of a Bukhara Mosque

 

A trip along the ancient Silk Road trade route and the Pamir Highway is a real adventure. First you’ll cross Turkey and Iran, heading for the Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. Then you’ll head for the mountains, where you can still get a wonderful glimpse of nomadic life. Continue on down Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway and you have enough cycling to keep you busy for a good 4-6 months.

We’ve done the first part of this trip, but we missed out on southern Kyrgyzstan and the Pamir Highway. Now that would make a great summer tour one of these days! It’s a pain to get visas (and they’re not cheap) but the rewards are spectacular scenery and a real sense of exploration in this little-touristed region of the world. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Central Asia and Tim Barnes’ Totally Knackered tour

 

6. Carretera Austral, Chile

Towards the Cordillera

 

Pack a sturdy bike and your tent for this 1,000km mostly unpaved road. It passes through the region of Patagonia and encompasses some of Chile’s most stunning terrain, including mountains, lakes and glaciers. This is definitely a summer route. In the off-season it can be closed by snow and heavy rain. More Info: A journal of a bike tourist in the Carretera Austral and Patagonia.

 

7. Southeast Asia

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

 

International bike touring doesn’t get much easier than in Southeast Asia, and there’s a lot to explore. We’ve spent 6 months here, and still not seen it all. Next on our list? The east coast of Malaysia and a jaunt into Myanmar / Burma. We also want to return to the Cameron Highlands tea growing area in Malaysia (pictured), where the air is refreshingly cool, for some day rides and hikes, which we didn’t have time for on the last trip.

Throughout the region, costs are affordable (even for the most budget-minded bike tourists), traffic is generally relaxed, hotels are easy to find and the food is great. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Southeast Asia and the slightly old but still helpful Mr. Pumpy

 

8. Morocco

 

Cheap flights and ferries from Europe make Morocco very accessible and it’s a great first taste of bike touring outside of the developed world. We’ve been to Morocco several times, and while the country is becoming increasingly touristy, it still offers plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten track.

Classic rides include the coastal route between Agadir and Essaouira and the trip from Marrakech, over the mountains and through the Draa Valley to the Sahara desert near Zagora. We’ve done all of these. Now we want to do a backroads tour of Morocco: no asphalt and lots of camping. More Info: Our own pages on bike touring in Morocco and the video (above) from our friends Blanche & Douwe. They’ve biked Morocco’s paths and tracks several times, so we’ll be picking their brains if we do this trip!

 

9. Great Divide Route

IMG_9573

 

Few places do “pure nature” as well as North America and the Great Divide is at the top of our list of routes to cycle on the continent. This off-pavement mountain bike route traces the Continental Divide from Banff in Canada all the way south to the Mexican border. It takes about 3 months to complete. A mountain bike with front suspension forks is often recommended to help cope with the tough terrain. More Info: ACA’s page on the Great Divide cycling route

 

10. Karakoram Highway

IMG_9573

 

A classic route between China and Pakistan, and one that may change significantly in the coming years (for the worse) as the road improves and becomes more accessible to heavy traffic. Go now, before it’s too late! More Info: Cycling The Karakoram Highway

 

What are the bike tours on your “to ride” list? Tell us. Leave a comment.

Photos: The Bike Tour by Tommy DavisRoute de la mer du Nord (by Vocivelo, flickr)Cycling Along Pakistan’s Gilgit River Valley (by Yodod, flickr)Towards the Cordillera (by Magical World, flickr), Cycling The Great Divide (by rich drogpa, flickr)

Book review: Canada By Bicycle

Posted May 4th, 2010

Canada By Bicycle BookCanada is the world’s second biggest country, so riding your bike across it is no small challenge.

We’re talking 7,000km of pedalling over a constantly changing terrain, from the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the flat farming fields of the prairies and through isolated fishing villages in the Maritime provinces.

That’s why it’s good to have some advice from a cyclist who’s done it before and few accounts are as detailed as Canada By Bicycle – a book written by Steve Langston. The guide traces the bike tour that Steve did from west to east across Canada in the summer of 2009.

Two things amazed us about this guide. First, it’s freely available online so you can have a good look through the chapters and see if this is the book for you before buying it. Second, there is an incredible amount of detail on all the practical issues that cyclists crossing Canada may face.

Cycling Across Canada

The book starts with solid advice on the basics of any cross Canada journey. You learn about seasons (May to October is best), why you should ideally bike from west to east (prevailing winds) and how much money you can reasonably expect to spend.

Topics like camping in bear country and putting your bike on a bus in Canada are also covered, along with some quirky tips from Steve’s touring experience. Ever thought of using a frisbee as a dinner plate? We hadn’t until we read this book.

The heart of Canada By Bicycle is the daily route descriptions. The 72 days that Steve took to bike from Vancouver, British Columbia on the west coast to St. Johns, Newfoundland on the Atlantic Ocean are outlined in detail. You’ll find maps and turn-by-turn cue sheets as well as helpful information on campgrounds, bike shops and the history of the areas you’re passing through.

Having biked across much of Canada ourselves, we were pleased to see many of the same places we visited mentioned along the way. The book covers all the main stopping points and attractions. While some of the information is fairly obvious, it’s nice to have it all written down in one place. There are a few hidden gems as well, like the mention of a bike shop in Ontario that has a free campground for cyclists. It would be easy to pedal past completely unaware of this treasure if you didn’t read Canada By Bicycle.

Camping In Canada

We were also happy to see the route through Manitoba take a swing to the north, away from a particularly dangerous stretch of highway and towards lesser known but beautiful places like the small towns of Dauphin and Gimli and Riding Mountain National Park.

In fact, if we had one request for future editions of Canada By Bicycle it would be for more side trips away from busier roads. This isn’t always easy in Canada because the country’s low population density means far fewer backroads than in the United States but sometimes we felt this book missed out on some beautiful rides.

In Nova Scotia, for example, the coastal road that runs between Amherst and Truro along the Bay of Fundy, taking in villages along the Bay of Fundy like Parrsboro and Five Islands, is quieter, more scenic and offers more attractions to visit, including the UNESCO World Heritage fossil cliffs of Joggins, than the busy highway route outlined in the book.

Another thing we noticed about Canada By Bicycle is that some of the suggested days are quite long. Our average day on a bike tour is about 80km but Steve regularly covers 100km or more. This isn’t such big a deal since you can almost always find alternative places to stop (especially if you are willing to do some free camping) but it’s something to keep in mind when you’re deciding how long a trip across Canada might take. At a leisurely pace, you might want a full five months to go from coast to coast.

Overall, Canada By Bicycle is a great resource for any cyclist considering a trip across this massive country. Checking out the website is a must (you can add your comments after you’ve ridden across Canada to help keep the book updated) and a printed copy as a reference guide for what’s coming up on the road ahead wouldn’t be out of place in your panniers either.

You can buy printed copies in many bookshops across Canada, from Mountain Equipment Co-op and on Amazon.

Posted in Books, Canada, Map

10 Questions: Cycling In Toronto area

Posted March 13th, 2010

Brantford Rail TrailThe Canadian city of Toronto doesn’t have a reputation as a bike touring destination.Most cyclists head west to the majestic Rocky Mountains or east to the fishing villages and rolling hills of Quebec.

But Toronto native Allan Stokell – a keen bike tourist and owner of the Tour Cycle bike tour company – says there’s plenty for cyclists to explore in the big city. And while Toronto may not be your main destination on a bike tour, you may well pass through it on your way to other places.

In this week’s 10 questions, Cycling In Toronto, Allan recommends places to ride your bike in and around Toronto, talks about taking your bike on public transport and even gives a tip about where you might find a stealth camping place!

Read more in 10 Questions: Cycling In Toronto

Posted in 10 Questions, Canada